How to store uniforms

Each week my son and I don our Boy Scouts of America uniforms and head to a meeting. Shirt, pants and hat come out of the closet and join us for a week of adventures, be it a lesson during a meeting or a few days at the camp site. Since these aren’t every day clothes we take care in storing them when the fun is over, which got me thinking about the care an storage of uniforms in general.

Uniforms need special care, from those you need for work to the military uniforms worn by the men and women in the armed forces. What’s the best way to store them? Read on.

Military uniforms are a special case. If their owner is still active, they’re often stored in places (barrack boxes or rucksacks) in case of rapid deployment. That being said, there are seasonal variations in uniforms as well as uniforms for special occasions. The same storage and organizational rules apply here as for civilian clothing; have it laundered or dry cleaned right away, store the uniforms separately from civilian clothes and store uniform parts (tops/bottoms) together if possible.

Most military uniforms have “accoutrements” that are worn with the clothing: pins, medals, name and rank badges and patches that can’t be laundered and will move from today’s uniform to tomorrow’s uniform. It’s best to have a small basket to corral these items either wherever you disrobe or in the laundry area. Accoutrements for special occasion uniforms should not be stored on the uniform (e.g. metal pins can rust and stain) so a small jewelry organizer tied to the clothes hanger (and easily shoved into a suitcase for traveling) is ideal.

Long term storage for military uniforms (insect proof bins, out of dampness etc) is the same as for civilian clothes.

Military members have lots of boots and shoes. For long term storage, stuffing boots with acid-free paper helps keep shape and prevents damage. Parade shoes (super-high gloss) should be stored in a zippered cloth bag.

Let’s move on from military uniforms and look at other sorts. There are general rules that apply to all sorts of uniforms:

  1. Avoid hangers for uniforms that will remain unused in long-term storage. The seams could stretch if left hanging for a year or more.
  2. 100% acid-free boxes are a good way to go. They protect uniforms efficiently, let you avoid hangers and allow air to circulate.
  3. Avoid vacuum-sealing uniforms as you could find permanent wrinkles have set in if left for a long time.
  4. Avoid putting them in the smallest space possible. Allowing air to flow will help prevent mold growth.

These tips will keep your uniforms looking good for years to come. Preserve their usefulness, significance and memories with ease. You’ll be glad you did.

Practical stocking stuffers

My sister’s Amazon wish list is among the dullest you’ll ever see. Here’s a small sampling:

  1. Sensible shoes
  2. A hat
  3. Raincoat

You get the idea. Every year it’s similar and every year I roll my eyes. Where’s the fun? Where’s the splurge? Where’s the total resignation to unbridled avarice? Her list is so…practical.

And that’s perfectly fine.

Today I recognize that frugality is a part of the uncluttered lifestyle. Flamboyant gifts have their place and are a lot of fun, but I shouldn’t knock level-headed, useful alternatives. I’ve always defined frugal as “nothing is wasted,” but it’s also got a good dash of “simple, plain and useful.” I’ve written about many products that suit that description here, and today I’ll continue the tradition with practical stocking stuffers. Here are some good ideas for the “practical” loved one on your list.

  1. The Coast HP1 Focusing 190 Lumen LED Flashlight. Hands down the best flashlight I’ve ever owned. Sturdy, reliable, well made and bright. Buy a few and and put one in your house, your car and your bag.
  2. The classic Victorinox Swiss Army Pocket Knife. I own two of these, and I keep one on the key chain of each of our cars. I use them several times per week, for everything from tightening loose screws to opening packages. And while you’re at it, why not add a pocket-sized sharpening stone?
  3. The Pocket Reference, 4th Edition. This little book contains just about everything you would ever want to know and it fits in your pocket. Plus you don’t need a full battery or a strong Wi-Fi signal to use it.
  4. The Accugage 60XGA Tire Gauge is one of the best in the industry. It is easy to read and reliable.
  5. A subscription to Dollar Shave Club or Harry’s. You’re going to buy razors and blades anyway, so just have them shipped to your house. I’ve been a happy Harry’s customer for years.
  6. Chargers, adapters and backup batteries. It’s no fun when a treasured gadget’s battery dies. An external battery pack like the Jackery Bolt will keep your devices running and running.
  7. Lastly, how about a magazine that speaks to the recipient’s interests or hobbies? Rolled up and tied with a bow, it’s a great addition to any stocking.

There you have it. Look beyond the extravagant to find the useful, practical gifts that people love. They’ll be glad you did.

Three small, useful tools

These three small, useful tools help me save time and be more productive.

Universal socket

20161209_universal_socketAfter living in Canada, England and now the United States, we have items that have been built with both SAE and metric-sized nuts and bolts. It is time-consuming, not to mention frustrating, going back and forth to the toolbox trying to figure out if the bolt is 12mm, 13mm or ½ inch-sized. The universal socket saves me time. I only have to grab this one socket for multiple jobs. It also works on nuts and bolts whose corners have been slightly ground-down causing ordinary wrenches to slip. It is also useful in fastening and detaching odd-shaped things like hooks and eyes. It won’t take the place of a heavy-duty socket set that a car mechanic might need but it is amazingly useful for all those jobs around the house.

Damaged screw remover set

20161209_screw_remover_setWe’ve lived in rental housing most of our lives. To do small repairs, sometimes we need to remove screws that are rusty, damaged or covered with layers and layers of paint. The damaged screw remover set has been very useful. These bits fit easily into a multi-head screwdriver or power drill and remove all types of screws including slot, Philips, Robertson, hex and Torx. This little kit has saved us from a lot of heartache (and smashed fingers) and made repair jobs much easier.

Glass cutter

I originally purchased a glass cutter for a weekend craft course on stained glass windows. Since then, I’ve used the glass cutter several times and I’m really glad we have it. Almost every time we move, the glass in a picture frame or a mirror gets broken.20161209_glass_cutter
With the glass cutter (and leather gloves and safety glasses) I have been able to cut the glass down to smaller sizes so I can wrap it in cardboard (usually a cereal box) and safely dispose of it.

Do you have small tools like these that you just can’t live without? Please share your stories with our readers in the comments.

Unitasker Wednesday: Turn & Churn

All Unitasker Wednesday posts are jokes — we don’t want you to buy these items, we want you to laugh at their ridiculousness. Enjoy!

When I first saw the Turn & Churn I couldn’t believe it. Not only would it be extremely unsanitary, it would be dangerous to try and make ice-cream with device attached to your car tire while you’re driving!
20161207_unitasker_turnchurn
Then I realized this was just a prank – there is no such thing as a Turn & Churn. This is just an empty box disguised to look like a useless unitasker.

There is a whole series of empty boxes designed to look like useless unitaskers including:

This might be a fine gift for someone with a good sense of humour (or a fan of Unitasker Wednesday) but I can think of better things to spend my money on than an empty box.

The best apps to track holiday packages

’Tis the season to track packages.

When I was young, making a purchase via what we called “mail order” went something like this:

  • Find the perfect gift in a catalog
  • Make your purchase by either sending in your billing information or talking on the phone
  • Two to six weeks of crossing your fingers in hopes that your gift actually arrives

It was an act of faith, plain and simple. Today, we can monitor every twist and turn in a package’s journey from distributor to doorstop. I’ve found two apps that do just that very well. Here are my favorite smartphone apps for tracking a package.

The criteria

Before I name my picks, let me share my criteria. First, any app worth considering must support multiple carriers. Sure, UPS, FedEx and others have their own dedicated solutions. I’m sure they’re great too, but unitaskers aren’t allowed, even when it comes to apps.

Next, and this goes without saying, it must be easy to add package info. Those numbers are typically long and complex, and the smarter an app is about managing them, the better.

I also want push notifications. That is, a little alert to pop up, triggered by criteria I define: change in status, arrival in a new state, scanned at a certain facility, etc.

Finally beautiful presentation is essential. While not crucial to functioning, I do have to look at the thing, and it should look nice. With that said, let’s get to my picks.

For iPhone: Deliveries

For me, Deliveries ($4.99) is the package-tracking app I want on my iPhone. I used it for years across many iterations and iPhones. While I’ve tried others, I’ve always come back to Deliveries. It meets all of my criteria and more.

Adding package information to Deliveries is so easy it’s ridiculous. The app automatically notices when a tracking number is on your phone’s clipboard and offers to create a new entry for it. So all you have to do is copy it from the confirmation email and then launch Deliveries. It notices the number as well as the correct carrier all on its own. Just hit the confirmation when it asks if you’d like to create a new entry and that’s it!

One thing to be aware of is that Deliveries won’t always pull the name of the item that’s being delivered. As far as I can tell, that depends on the site of origin. If it can’t see it, you can easily tap the edit button and fill it in yourself. Still, the app does the bulk of the work for you.

Deliveries also supports many carriers, and color-codes entries for easy, at-a-glance reference. For example, packages being delivered by UPS are brown, those from FedEx are purple and so on.

And yes, there is support for push notifications. You can set these up however you like. If you’re a real “Type A,” you can get an alert whenever the package status changes. Otherwise, you can simply get a ping when it leaves the distributor and another when it’s waiting at home.

Lastly, this app looks pretty. Not just pretty, but useful. The color-coding is very helpful and the built-in map support lets you track the journey. In short, Deliveries is absolutely worth every penny of its $4.99 price tag.

Android – ParcelTrack

If you’re on the Android side of things, go and pick up ParcelTrack (free with optional in-app purchases). While it’s not as pretty as Deliveries, it is just as useful, easy-to-use, and reliable. Just like its iOS counterpart, it meets all of my criteria.

As for carrier support, ParcelTrack covers over 20 across the U.S., Canada and the U.K., including UPS, USPS, DHL (Express), FedEx, TNT and more.

As for entering package info, ParcelTrack takes a different approach. When you install the app you’ll receive a special, private email address. Then, when you receive shipping confirmation via email, simply forward it to that special address. ParcelTrack extracts all of the information it needs and creates an entry for you. It works quite well and takes very little time. Also, much like Deliveries, ParcelTrack offers automatic carrier detection.

As your package travels from Point A to Point B, C, D….you get the idea, ParcelTrack sends free push notifications on a schedule that you define. And here’s what else is cool — scan the bar code of a package that you’re shipping and stay informed as it meets your intended recipient.

There you have two great apps for tracking your holiday packages. Whether they’re headed your way our if they’re out to family and friends, you’ll be right there with them.

How to hire a professional organizer for the holidays

Holiday organizing sometimes means calling in a professional.

The winter holidays represent a busy time for many people. In addition to the day-to-day tasks of running a household, you may take on:

  • Traveling
  • Hosting visitors
  • Planning/hosting a party
  • Decorating the house
  • Shopping
  • Cooking

…and so on. Add to that the general cleaning, laundry, maintenance, homework, etc. of a typical month and it’s very easy to get stretched way too thin. When that happens you might consider hiring a professional organizer. This extra set of hands can be a real life-saver, if you approach it carefully. Here are a few tips for finding, hiring and getting the most out of a professional organizer around the holidays.

Find the right organizer for you

Hiring the right organizer for you isn’t as easy as firing up Google and contacting the top result. There’s a lot to consider, starting with trust. This is a person who will be working in your home, and potentially be working with stuff you don’t often share with strangers. The truth is just about anyone can call themselves a “professional organizer.” There are, however, a few steps you can take to find a trustworthy, qualified professional.

Your best option is to start with an industry association such as the National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO). There are NAPO members all over the world however, many countries have their own associations. See the International Federation of Professional Organizing Associations (IFPOA) for an association in your country.

Most associations require their members to have a certain amount of training and carry insurance before they can be listed on the association website. Additionally, members must adhere to a strict Code of Ethics.

It is also a good idea to ask around. Perhaps a friend, relative or coworker has used an organizer successfully. Create a list of two or three likely candidates and then schedule interviews.

Spend twenty or thirty minutes to spend talking with each candidate. Many will offer this type of consultation for free. During this chat, you can get to know his or her personality, experience, credentials, history and organizational philosophy. Get even more specific by asking about:

  • How long have they been in business?
  • What type of organizing do they specialize in?
  • What do they charge and is there a written contract?
  • Do they prefer to work alone or with others?
  • Can they provide references?

Professional Organizers in Canada (POC) has a great list of Frequently Asked Questions about hiring an organizer that may be helpful.

Once you’re satisfied with that I think of as the “technical” aspect, move on to the tricker questions, like:

  • How do they deal with clients who have a strong sentimental attachment to items?
  • Can they remove items marked for donation?
  • Will they purchase organizing items like baskets and bins or is that my responsibility?

A consultation can help you get the kick-start you need, find the right person and most importantly, identify the person you’re going to get along with.

How much will an organizer cost?

Rates for a professional organizer can range from about $50 to $100 an hour, and most have a 2–3 hour minimum requirement. You’ll want to know if he or she charges by the hour or by the project. Rates may vary between geographical areas and travel charges may apply depending on your location. While it’s possible to find that person who will work for $20 per hour, that “bargain” might not deliver the results you’re looking for.

Other considerations

This one might sound silly, but ask if they have advertising on their car. Perhaps you don’t want the neighbors to know you’ve brought someone in. Most organizers have confidentiality agreements to protect your privacy. If the organizer doesn’t mention this, raise the subject with him/her.

Also, know just what type of work you’re looking for. In this instance, you might want help with prepping for a party or organizing holiday decorations. Therefore, someone who specializes in bathrooms or kitchens might not be your best choice.

Pro organizer or personal assistant?

Perhaps you want to go in the other direction entirely. That is to say, hire someone to take care of the little errands while you stay home and organize the party, put the decorations away neatly and efficiently, etc. In this case, a personal assistant may be what you need. Websites like Care.com can help you find one.

In any case, best of luck with getting it all done. Hiring an organizer or assistant can be a great way to reach your goal and enjoy a more stress-free holiday. Let us know how it goes.

The perfect souvenir

A while ago I was visiting the site GoThreeTwentyFour. It was created by Stephanie and her goal is to visit all 324 (now 325) countries on the Travellers’ Century Club list.

In one of her blog posts, she recounts how she was in Cyprus on the beach where the mythical Greek goddess Aphrodite emerged from the sea. Stephanie’s first thought was to take one of the small, smooth stones as a souvenir but she did not. It was one of her biggest regrets about her visit to Cyprus. It was this experience that got her thinking about the traits of the “perfect souvenir.”

Stephanie indicates that a souvenir should have at least four of the following characteristics.

  • Useful – You need to use the item you purchase. Eat the candies. Display the artwork.
  • Collectible – Consider purchasing the same or similar item in every location but make sure you are clear on how to develop the collection.
  • Personal – This should be something you identify with on a personal level, not just a fridge magnet with your name on it.
  • Local – There should be something about the item that you can’t find anywhere else.
  • Connective – The item should be a reminder of the place and the people you met along the way.
  • Practical – It should be affordable and easy to take back home.
  • Unique – Don’t shop at the same chain stores as you have at home. Get something that has its own story.
  • Quality – Make sure the souvenir is durable enough for you to enjoy for a long time.

These tips can be applied when you’re buying souvenirs for friends and family too.

Stephanie says a rock from the beach in Cyprus would have had at least five of the characteristics of a perfect souvenir. She feels that the important characteristics for a souvenir might be different for each trip and different people might give the qualities varying degrees of importance.

Here is a quote from Stephanie, an idea that we at Unclutterer approve of:

“The goal is to skip buying something that will be a waste of money and recognize when you totally need to grab the rock on the beach.”

We would like to thank Stephanie for allowing us to share her infographic with our readers. Please visit her site, GoThreeTwentyFour for more details on the “Perfect Souvenir.”

 

perfect souvenir

Being productive with Nextdoor, for uncluttering and more

About a year ago I joined my local Nextdoor community. For those who aren’t aware of Nextdoor, it’s a “private social network for your neighborhood.” Nextdoor is currently available in the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands.

As a locally focused network, Nextdoor won’t have messages about national politics. The following are the kinds of messages I usually see:

  • Lost and found pets: dogs, cats, and chickens
  • Other lost and found items, including keys, phones, and jewelry
  • Items for sale (or items being given away for free)
  • Items people are looking for (usually free or inexpensive)
  • Requests for a good painter, plumber, handyperson, house cleaner, etc.
  • Notices about local events
  • Notices about local road closures

As with any such network, taking time to use it effectively will pay off. If you’re using Nextdoor (or considering such use in the future), please keep the following suggestions in mind.

Choose your notification options carefully

Nextdoor lets you choose to get emails about every post from your neighborhood (and top posts from nearby neighborhoods), no emails at all, or something in between. You can also choose to get a daily digest, and the contents of that digest can be customized a bit. You can also select which “nearby neighborhoods” you want to see messages from, whether that’s via email or on the Nextdoor website or mobile app.

You can also choose to get mobile alerts about urgent items: missing children, natural disasters, etc.

You may not be sure which messages you want to get at first, so just make your best guess and then adjust as necessary after you’ve been in the network for a while.

Use good subject lines

Just as with email, you will make everyone’s life a bit easier if the subject line makes it obvious what your message is about. I get a lot of Nextdoor emails every day, and I want to be able to quickly scan to see which ones may be of interest.

I saw a message this week with the subject line “Hi all” — which wound up being someone who was looking for a vacuum cleaner. A subject line saying “Wanted: vacuum cleaner” or “Need a vacuum cleaner” would have been a whole lot better.

Similarly, a lost and found message entitled “Lost bracelet at or around Farmers Market” is much better than one that just says “bracelet.”

Include good photos when relevant

Just as you would with Craigslist, be sure to include good photos if you’re offering something for sale (or even for free). Even if it’s something where the looks don’t matter (such as tickets to an event) or something pretty standard (like a Kindle), a photo can help because the message will look better in the online listings.

This is one area where I want to commend my neighbors, who have generally done a good job of this. One person even included a picture of the “free clean dirt” being offered — which got taken pretty quickly!

Also consider photos when posting about lost or found items or pets.

I haven’t yet used Nextdoor to give things away, since my local freecycle group usually works fine for that. But I have some china to get rid of, and I just might try selling it on Nextdoor.